Stop work-related skin disease: it's in your hands

30 May 2013

David Lummis discusses the BSIF's commitment to reducing the incidence of work-related dermatitis

David Lummis discusses the BSIF's commitment to reducing the incidence of work-related dermatitis

Since 2006, the BSIF has actively supported the HSE's 'It's in your hands' campaign along with Safety Groups UK (SG UK), British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Seven years on, HSE statistics show that the incidence of workrelated dermatitis is on the decline, but there are still approximately 40,000 new diagnoses of work-related skin disease per year and it is believed that this is the tip of the iceberg with many cases still going unreported. So what can be done to raise the awareness of work-related skin disease and more importantly, what can be done to prevent further incidences?

Raising awareness A new initiative by SG UK called 'Health Risks at Work' (HRAW) has identified the skin as one of five key areas for improving awareness and education of health risks at work. To support this initiative, the BSIF, Deb and BM Polyco have worked closely to update the original 'It's In Your Hands' guide.

The updated guide provides employers and employees with the latest statistics on the incidence of skin disease in the workplace. It also provides advice on how to avoid the risk of skin cancer as well as work-related dermatitis. This will be of particular use to SMEs as it provides all the information in a clear and simple format.

The cost of work-related dermatitis Statistics show that skin cancer is a developing issue; of the 2055 cases reported, via physicians and dermatologists under the THOR scheme in 2010, 73% of cases were contact dermatitis and 19% were skin cancer. Unfortunately, there are too many individuals that live with the pain, discomfort and suffering brought on by work-related skin disease. The cost implications of this problem can also be significant and are widely accepted to be under reported.

Occupational skin problems not only mean personal costs for the employee, but there are compensation costs as well as disruption costs to businesses such as lost productivity through employee absence from work, reduced employee efficiency and poor staff morale, together with the potential damage caused to both an organisation and its reputation through negative publicity.

However, research shows that the majority of work-related skin disease cases are preventable by adopting steps to manage risks in the workplace; along with applying simple exposure reduction methods, including the provision of effective skin care. As such, the 'It's In Your Hands' guide has been developed to reflect this and is now a comprehensive reference document that details the risks relating to work-related skin disease and what can be done to prevent such incidences.

The guide is now a comprehensive document. It was recently presented to the All Party Group on Occupational Health and Safety in Parliament and was well received. In developing the guide to include 'Skin Care Consideration by Work Area', we are able to use the document to highlight that risks to health can be managed and ill health prevented, if every business takes some simple steps to identify sources of harm and to put in place measures to manage them.

In addition to the guide, a campaign poster has also been produced to highlight the risks of skin disease and shows the four simple steps of how to avoid these risks: i.e. safe working distance; avoid skin contact; protect the skin and check skin regularly. As well as ensuring that your employees have access to appropriate PPE and skin care, I urge you to share the content of this guide with all of your employees so that everyone is aware of the risks to skin in your workplace.

Whilst work related skin disease can be a serious problem, by taking a sensible, positive approach to looking after health and safety, you could prevent occupational skin disease and the associated problems within your workplace. Whether you are an employer or an employee, do not become a victim of workrelated skin disease; remember it's in your hands! For more details on the 'Health Risks at Work' campaign and to get a copy of the 'It's In Your Hands' guide, go to: